Tag Archives: Lohengrin

Mark Twain on opera

 

Mark Twain’s reactions to grand opera are epitomized by a passage from A tramp abroad in which he described a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

“The banging and slamming and booming and crashing were something beyond belief. The racking and pitiless pain of it remains stored up in my memory alongside the memory of the time that I had my teeth fixed.”

“There was little of that sort of customary thing where the tenor and the soprano stand down by the footlights, warbling, with blended voices…no, it was every rioter for himself and no blending. Each sang his indictive narrative in turn, accompanied by the whole orchestra of sixty instruments, and when this had continued for some time, and one was hoping they might come to an understanding and modify the noise, a great chorus composed entirely of maniacs would suddenly break forth.”

“We only had one brief little season of heaven and heaven’s sweet ecstasy and peace during all this long and diligent and acrimonious reproduction of the other place. This was while a gorgeous procession of people marched around and around, in the third act, and sang the Wedding Chorus. To my untutored ear that was music—almost divine music. While my seared soul was steeped in the healing balm of those gracious sounds, it seemed to me that I could almost re-suffer the torments which had gone before, in order to be so healed again.”

“There is where the deep ingenuity of the operatic idea is betrayed. It deals so largely in pain that its scattered delights are prodigiously augmented by the contrasts. A pretty air in an opera is prettier there than it could be anywhere else, I suppose, just as an honest man in politics shines more than he would elsewhere.”

Excerpted from “Mark Twain on opera” (The NATS journal XLIII/3 [January–February 1987] pp. 19, 49).

Above, the author around 1880, the year A tramp abroad was published; below, the “little season of heaven” at Bayreuth in 2010.

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Filed under Humor, Literature, Opera

Germany rocks opera

bayreuth lohengrin

Increasingly, young opera singers from all over the world are moving to Germany, drawn by the prospect of steady work—even full-time employment.

In 2013 Germany saw 7230 opera performances, one-third of the world’s total. German opera houses employ 1270 soloists and 2870 chorus members on full-time contracts.

An American soprano who will be joining the Deutsche Oper in Berlin next year says “There aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be for up-and-coming singers in the U.S. If you’re a lesser-known name, American opera houses often don’t take a chance on you because they need to sell tickets. When I return to the U.S., people will say ‘She must be good, she’s sung at the Deutsche Oper.’”

This according to “If you want to sing opera, learn German” by Elisabeth Braw (Newsweek 17 July 2014; online only).

Above and below, a recent German opera production that provided numerous employment opportunities.

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Caricature

Caricature is a type of iconography that involves distorting the features of recognizable people to exaggerate some aspect of their demeanor.

Opinions differ regarding the term’s applicability to other than real-life subjects; for example, Walt Disney considered his animated animals to be caricatures because in creating them he blended animal features with human ones, an inversion of the practice of caricaturing people by merging their features with those of animals.

In the caricature reproduced above by Albert Douat (1847–92, signed with the pseudonym J. Blass), Liszt consoles Wagner over the Parisian reception of Tannhäuser in 1861 and Lohengrin in 1891; both productions were disrupted by elements hostile to the composer. Liszt’s imposing stature and paternal attitude—particularly apt since by the time the drawing was produced he was Wagner’s father-in-law—contrasts with the dejected, little-boy look of the creator of Gesamtkunstwerk.

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Filed under Humor, Iconography, Reception, Romantic era